Last Call

You need to watch Tom Cruise’s wildest crime thriller before it leaves HBO Max next week

“I am a cool guy, with a job I contracted to do.”

Everything’s normal, but then a body falls out of the sky. That scenario sounds more like a writing prompt than an inciting incident for a crime thriller, but one 2004 movie takes this shock plot twist and turns it into a game of cat and mouse between an all-powerful villain and an unassuming hero — with both roles played by action movie powerhouses. It’s a masterclass in how to craft a thriller that places as much emphasis on character as action, and it’s essential viewing for movie fans everywhere before it leaves HBO Max on July 31.

Collateral is a 2004 neo-noir thriller directed by Michael Mann. Jamie Foxx stars as Max, a mild-mannered Los Angeles cab driver just trying to get through another night while saving up to start his own limousine business. Nothing’s unusual until a mysterious silver fox named Vincent (a bewigged Tom Cruise) slides into his backseat and offers him a huge amount of money to take him around the city all night.

Max accepts, not knowing that Vincent is carrying out a series of hits. That little detail is only revealed when, after their first stop, a corpse crashes out a window and onto his cab. Not a great way to start a fare, but a good way to start a movie. Over the course of the film, Max sheds his placid demeanor and finds his inner action star, one that can stand up to a professional hitman who’s holding him hostage.

While Michael Mann’s direction alone makes this film an all-timer, it’s Stuart Beattie’s script that really carries the thrills. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because the Australian screenwriter recently tackled four episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Beattie’s writing is paired, of course, with the one-two punch of Cruise and Foxx playing off each other, conversing about ambition and destiny while driving around LA. The action is perfectly 2004, while still maintaining enough noir elements to make the movie timeless.

Vincent and Max make a getaway from one of Vincent’s hits. DreamWorks Pictures

Aside from its textual brilliance, Collateral also captures a distinct energy, one of reckless optimism and the appeal of going after what you want without being afraid to break the rules. A scene on a train contains some of the best acting Cruise and Foxx have ever done. It’s no surprise Foxx was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor — and a little surprising that Cruise was snubbed.

This is a movie that deserves to stand alongside dorm poster legends like Drive, Scarface, and Fight Club, yet somehow gets overlooked in many retrospectives. Stream it before it’s too late and cement its place as a classic in your own movie rankings.

Collateral is streaming on HBO Max until July 31.

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